Mount Vernon, IA
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Paying for one's waste has brought home to each of us a growing awareness of the full lifecycle costs of "throwing it out."
Mount Vernon, IA
- Population: 3,700
- Type of Community: Suburban
- Type of Program: Tags
- Program Start Date: July 1991
The city's pay-as-you-throw system works quite simply. Households purchase $1.75 tags at city hall or one of several stores. As a public service, stores sell the tags with no markup. The price for collection is one tag for each container, which must be no more than 30 gallons or 40 pounds, and multiple tags for bulky items. Homeowners also receive a $7 solid waste bill monthly. The city discounts the monthly fee for households defined as low income under the school lunch program.
While the revenue from tag sales roughly covers the cost of trash collection and landfill fees, the monthly billing finances the "free of charge" collection of recycling material, leaves, and brush. Residents say tags are a fair way to pay for trash disposal, and the combination of tags and monthly fees provides a steady revenue to the city.
"We have not only reduced the amount of trash sent to the landfill, but also generated an enormous amount of civic pride in our efforts to do something positive for our community environment"- Don Cell, Chair of the Reduction and Recycling Committee
The city council appointed the Reduction and Recycling Committee to develop a solid waste program. We spent over a year researching the experiences of other communities and consulting experts, and eventually recommended tags for waste collection to accompany curbside recycling. Tags cost little to print, permit residences to continue using their containers within the volume and weight limits, adhere securely at all temperatures, are convenient for participating merchants to handle, and can easily be removed when the trash is collected. Stealing of tags has not been a problem in this residential community.
Pay-as-you-throw played a major role in motivating waste reduction and nearly doubling recycling. The city estimates that the trash the typical resident sent to the landfill decreased by nearly 40 percent, from 45 pounds per week in 1990 to 27 pounds in 1995. In addition, requiring a tag for each container of grass clippings and garden waste has nearly eliminated the collection of these materials. The total reduction of residential trash and all yard waste per household exceeds the goal of 50 percent waste reduction the state legislature has established for the year 2000. Dumping, subject to a $1000 fine in Mount Vernon, has not been a problem.
Altogether, by recycling and reducing trash, and by leaving grass cuttings on the lawn or composting it, the average household saved $47 last year in fewer tags purchased, a total saving of some $46,000 for our 980 households. At 9 pounds per household per week, Mount Vernon leads all 17 cities in Linn County in recycling.
In addition to putting more into recycling bins, residents of Mount Vernon have reduced waste in various ways: 1) recycling appliances; 2) recycling materials the city does not accept at drop-off facilities in Cedar Rapids and places of employment that recycle these items; 3) backyard composting of organic wastes; 4) purchase of reuseable rather than disposable materials; and 5) more yard sales. Much of this additional recycling and reduction is doubtless motivated by the tags that residents must purchase to send trash to the landfill. We believe that such incentives would also work with less expensive drop-off recycling programs in other cities.
As Mount Vernon's mayor, Rick Elliot, says: "Our
program has been very successful due to the initial
involvement of a large number of citizens, continued
expansion of recycling opportunities, community
education and ownership of the program, and a very
civic-minded, cooperative recycling and refuse vendor.
This program works and it works well."
The major challenge inherent in any reduction and recycling program is informing the public. The city needs to do better at keeping households current on changes in the recycling program. One successful example is an information packet prepared by the Recycling and Reduction Committee that explained to households how, with reasonably frequent mowing, grass cuttings left to decompose produce a healthier lawn. Informing households about alternative ways to deal with wastes goes hand in hand with pay-as-you-throw to maximize the effectiveness of the financial and environmental incentives.
- View and print this success story (PDF) (2 pp, 140K, about PDF).
- For more information on Mount Vernon's pay-as-you-throw program, call Bluestem Solid Waste Agency at 319-398-1278.
- To order a complete set of Pay-As-You-Throw Success Stories free of charge, call 1-888-EPA-PAYT or access our online order form.